by Tony Judnich
For a fun workout with Mother Nature, consider exploring “Speed Demon,” “Buggin’ Out,” “Gator Alley” and other cleverly named pathways at the Timberlake Bike Trail Recreation Area.
Those are just some of the more than 20 miles of trails at the maze-like, mostly shaded recreation area on the Eglin Air Force Base reservation.
Trailheads with plenty of parking spaces are located a couple of miles east of the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds and just north of Lewis Turner Boulevard/State Road 189. One trailhead is adjacent to Range Road 234 and one is next to Range Road 236/Ranger Camp Road.
Visitors age 16 and older must have a $20 annual outdoor recreation permit from Eglin to access the trails. Those younger than 16 must be with a permit holder while on the reservation. Each permit holder must also have a photo I.D. with them while exploring the area.
To obtain the permit, visit eglin.isportsman.net and watch a seven-minute safety video, which includes information on how to identify unexploded ordnance such as bullets and bombs. After payment, the permit may be printed.
Warnings about unexploded ordnance might surprise newcomers. The reservation, however, has been supporting military testing/training since 1939, and the iSportsman website clearly cautions, “If it looks man-made, avoid it!”
At the recreation area, explorers can choose from beginner, green-blazed trails; intermediate, blue-blazed trails; and expert, red-blazed trails. Most of the trails are one-way paths.
On my initial bike trip in March, I gulped wood-scented fresh air even though I was pedaling along the beginner-level “Stinky Creek” trail. It took me to the serene Timberlake Camp next to Timberlake Pond, where I spotted a turtle and a great egret. Along the west side of the pond, I enjoyed the expert-level, cliff-hugging “TimberLake” trail.
In mid-April, I returned to the trails for my second biking adventure. This included flying down and crawling up the twisting, beginner-level “Gator Alley” trail. At the bottom of the hills, I soaked up the sound of rushing water next to a beaver dam. Here, several fish swam in a deep hole of Lightwood Knot Creek, which flows south to Garnier Bayou.
Other than steep sections of trails and portions of deep sand, the biggest obstacles that I’ve dealt with at the recreation area so far have been tree roots sticking up from the paths. But they help keep me focused and add more fun to the journey. Make sure your brakes are in top shape.
Besides mountain bikers, the overall trail system is used by runners and hikers, including those who are accompanied by dogs. On my last trip, I saw a family with small children enjoying a peaceful walk in the woods.
In my brief time on the trails, I didn’t see any wildlife other than squirrels and small birds. Other bikers have told me they’ve seen black bears at the rec area. Hopefully, I’ll see one sometime. Or maybe I’ll spot the namesake of “Gator Alley.”
Thank you, Air Force, for allowing access to this thrilling network of trails.